Sarah Madison on Writing from the Gut

Today my guest is Sarah Madison, here to talk about following your instincts and her new book, Walk A Mile.

There are times when you should go with your gut. You know what I mean. That little voice that says, “Don’t take that job” or “That guy is bad news” or “You know, if you don’t want to end up with diabetes, you should lay off the Cheez Doodles.” That voice is serious and quiet. It expects you to listen, and you should. Every. Time.

The only time I’ve ever made a serious mistake was when I didn’t listen to that voice. I took the job that filled me with misgivings. I trusted someone I shouldn’t have. I wound up with health problems I could have avoided.  Does your gut ever lie to you? I don’t think so. I think that instinct was honed deep within us to keep us from eating the wrong plant or entering a cave in which a saber tooth tiger was lurking.

Oh yes, it fails us sometimes. When something blindsides us, we tell ourselves we didn’t see that coming; we didn’t have any warning. But we probably did. We’ve spent a lifetime ignoring that little voice. Many times it speaks, but we’ve learned to drown it out. Many times we’re so frazzled and out of sync with our gut that is only in the aftermath of disaster we can acknowledge to ourselves we did know better.

Occasionally we’ll get the outlier—the screaming sense of panic that tells us not to get on that plane, or to take the next taxi cab. Oftentimes, that is a symptom of something else, some larger problem that we haven’t yet identified but instead are focusing on the thing in front of us. Well, you know what? I’ve listened to that gut statement, too. And I’ve never regretted it. Once, as I was getting ready to leave the house for a day of fun at the barn, I looked down at the bouncing, eager dog and said, “You know what? It won’t kill you to stay home one day.”

On the way home, I flipped my car on the interstate.

The first question everyone asked me, once they knew I was okay, was if my dog was okay. Everyone knew my dog went everywhere with me. Not that one time, however. Other things can masquerade as your gut, too. That small voice that tells you you’re not good enough, attractive enough, talented enough or smart enough? Yeah, that’s not your gut. That’s the part of you that has been shaped through the years by other people’s perceptions of you. Maybe you threatened their own sense of self-worth. Maybe they were trying to protect you from heartache. But that small voice isn’t centered in your gut. That’s the reflection of the Dream Killers in your life. Dream Killers feel compelled to destroy your dreams because someone effectively killed theirs. So don’t listen to that voice. Funny how we tend to listen to that voice all the time. Why? Because is it familiar. Because it doesn’t challenge us to leave our comfort zone. Because it matches the story we tell ourselves about our lives.

When I wrote Unspeakable Words, I had a plan for a three to four book story arc. It was my first major publication, and it went to the Dreamspinners bestseller list and stayed there for over a month. I was delighted, and happily began working on the next in the series. But a couple of lukewarm reviews shook my confidence in the planned storyline. Yeah, I was the rawest noob. They weren’t even bad reviews, just a couple of less-than-enthusiastic ones, but the old self-doubts set in. I began reading a ton of books on writing mysteries, and OMG, I was doing *everything* wrong! I discounted the sales, I conveniently forgot about all the wonderful emails and positive feedback I’d received. I set aside the series and worked on other projects.

Every time I thought about picking up the Sixth Sense series again, I did so with completely revamping the storyline. Gutting it. Ripping out the paranormal aspect and making it a straightforward mystery series. I couldn’t do it, though. I felt hamstrung by my indecision. The more time that passed, the more I figured no one would care about John Flynn and Jerry Parker anymore.

I was wrong.

One day I was seized with a moment of fierce determination. Damn it, they were my characters and it was my story arc, and instead of just waffling around about it, I should just write the stories I wanted to write and let the readers decide if they liked it or not. That was the last day that reviews had the power to wound me. Oh sure, everyone likes good reviews. A slew of stellar reviews makes you more visible on Amazon, makes people take a chance on your work. But you know what? That only matters if I am counting on writing to rescue me from a stack of bills or let me quit my day job. I’ve stopped fretting about that, too. What will be will be.

And so I wrote Walk a Mile, the story the way I had envisioned it four years ago. The response has been tremendous. Not only do people really like this story, but I’m getting emails and comments from people telling me how much they loved Flynn and Parker and how long they’ve been waiting for the next installment in the series. I’m both humbled and ashamed—I feel bad that I kept readers waiting so long.

I should have gone with my gut.

I’m working on the next in the series now.

Excerpt from Walk A Mile:

Jerry could sympathize. His palms dampened at the idea of meeting Flynn’s former lover. His former female lover. He wiped his hands surreptitiously at his sides and wished there was time for him to dash into the men’s room and straighten his tie or something. If he put his sunglasses back on now would he look cool or pretentious? Crap. Would anyone noticed if he stood with his gut sucked in for the rest of this visit? Maybe she’d be a frumpy librarian type. Oh, who was he kidding? This was Flynn’s ex-girlfriend he was talking about. She’d be the sexy librarian that would knock your socks off just by saying hello. The echo of a woman’s shoes on the tiled floor made him realize she was here and he’d run out of time to make a better impression. Slowly, he turned to face the woman approaching them. Oddly, when he briefly caught Flynn’s eye, he looked as reluctant as Jerry felt.

Nancy Glover was absolutely stunning. She couldn’t have looked better for the ‘run into the old boyfriend’ moment than if she’d planned for it. Her hair was that vibrant Dana-Scully red that could only come from a professional colorist, and suddenly Flynn’s remarks about him not dying his hair that color had a lot more meaning than before. The intense shade complimented her pale skin and illuminated her green eyes. Of course she would have green eyes. Dressed in a black pencil skirt and white blouse, she had the cool demeanor of Agent Scully as well.

“John,” she said, walking up to the counter where Flynn and Jerry were waiting. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here at the museum. In fact, I’m surprised you’re in town at all. I would have bet good money that you weren’t coming in for the reunion.” Her smile was pleasant but cautious, like a stray cat that wanted to be friendly but wasn’t sure she wasn’t about to get shoved in a carrier and taken off to the shelter.

The woman behind the desk watched their interaction avidly. Jerry thought about offering her some popcorn. Flynn glanced at him sharply.

“I’m not here for the reunion.” Had it been anyone else, he would have sounded curt, but Flynn’s charm didn’t fail him. “I didn’t know you were working here. Last I heard you were at the Smithsonian.”

She shrugged. “There were cutbacks. You know how it is in a down economy. To be honest, I prefer working at a smaller museum. Less bureaucracy.” A real smile cracked her cool exterior. Damn. Under other circumstances, Jerry suspected he’d like her. She raised a questioning eyebrow at the two of them. “So what are you doing here? And who’s your friend?”

“My partner, Special Agent Jerry Parker. We had to come to D.C. on business and I was curious about this trinket box that was listed as part of the Smithsonian’s collection. How’d it end up here?”

“Come with me, I’ll show it to you. You can go ahead and close up, Betty. I’ll see them out.” Nancy turned on a glistening black heel and walked back down the hallway from which she’d come, her shoes clicking authoritatively as she moved. “As to how it ended up here, the Smithsonian had no idea what to do with it. It didn’t seem to be particularly valuable and no one could tell precisely what its origins are. You’re telling me you saw one of these in California?”

“Yes,” Jerry said, entering the conversation for the first time. “Though this one appears to be a bit larger. The designs on the casing are similar, but not identical.”

WalkAMileSix months after starting their hunt for a serial killer who is still at large, FBI agents Jerry Lee Parker and John Flynn are partners in every sense. But Jerry has serious doubts about their relationship and whether they would even be together if not for the way Flynn changed after touching a mysterious artifact in a museum.

Flynn hates the extraordinary power bestowed on him by the artifact and wants nothing more than to have a normal life again. Jerry fears that without the unusual connection they forged, Flynn will no longer want or need him. Chasing after a similar artifact takes them back to Flynn’s old stomping grounds in Washington D.C., where his newfound abilities uncover long-buried secrets, the kind people would kill to protect. But they aren’t the only ones looking for these powerful relics, and what they discover will threaten their relationship—and their lives.

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Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.


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2 responses to “Sarah Madison on Writing from the Gut

  1. Pingback: Today’s the last day to get Walk a Mile at 25% off during Dreamspinner’s Halloween Sale! | Sarah Madison Fiction

  2. Thank you for hosting me here today, Shae! I appreciate the opportunity to chat about the new story 🙂